The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck series raced at Pocono Raceway this weekend and Kyle Busch added two more trophies to his collection. Busch tied Ron Hornaday for most career CWTS wins with 51 and tied Kevin Harvick for the most MENCS wins this season at six apiece.
The MENCS event, Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 (July 29) could best be described as chaotic. It started with Daniel Suarez on the pole after several drivers failed post-qualifying inspection. Then, Chase Elliott captured the first stage, just the third stage race win for a Chevrolet this year.
Some order was restored once Harvick cruised to the win in stage two. But then, William Byron led the first 10 laps of the final stage after trying a pit-road strategy gamble. Busch passed him with 50 laps to go, benefiting from some Harvick misfortune and never gave up the lead after that.
For the second week in a row, a Stewart-Haas Racing driver accidentally denied a teammate the win. This week, Aric Almirola clipped Harvick on pit road, damaging both Fords. The No. 4 was the only car that could possibly have caught up with the No. 18.
Ten different drivers led laps and there were 13 lead changes.
A number of drivers set personal bests. Suarez earned his first career pole and he, Bowman, and Byron all had the best finishes of their MENCS careers in second, third and sixth, respectively. On the other end of the garage, Kyle Weatherman tied his MENCS career best with a 31st-place run in the unchartered No. 99 for StarCom Racing.
Flunking prerace inspection. It was crammed in after qualifying, so if your car failed, your qualifying time was disallowed. That’s exactly what happened to Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Byron, Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
13 of 40 entries, in total, were forced to the back of the field. Then, Ross Chastain was added, starting in the rear after skipping qualifying to race in Iowa. That means 35 percent of the grid saw their qualifying times wiped out. It’s clear NASCAR and the teams have to figure out this tug-of-war that’s making so many battle (and lose) when it comes to inspection.
Front Row Motorsports wouldn’t complain if every race was held at the Tricky Triangle. It’s the site of one of two race wins in team history (Chris Buescher in 2016) and FRM has always run well there. David Ragan finished 16th in June and 19th on Sunday; Michael McDowell was 21st in June and 16th on Sunday. That’s near the peak of what this midpack team can be expected to produce. For both cars to finish that well was terrific.
It seemed everything went wrong this weekend for Team Penske. Austin Cindric struggled to an 18th-place run in Iowa’s NASCAR XFINITY race. It was his second-worst result while driving either the No. 12 or No. 22 Mustangs.
Then, in the Pocono Cup race, a flat tire sent Brad Keselowski into the wall. It was his third finish of 32nd or worse in the past four races. Teammate Joey Logano was never really heard from, encountered various problems and wound up 26th. Ryan Blaney posted the team’s best result in 12th but even that was a big disappointment for the June 2017 winner.
“We just aren’t good enough to really run any better than we are but we sure are trying,” Keselowski said afterwards. “We are fighting hard trying to get the most of everything we can get.”
Right now, it’s not enough.
Very quietly (does he know any other way to race?) Ryan Newman has posted three top 10s in the past four races and run four of the past five inside the top 15. It’s probably too little, too late for the Richard Childress Racing driver to sneak his way into the playoffs, sitting 88 behind the cutline (Bowman) with five races left. However, it should give RCR a boost of confidence Austin Dillon might be able to survive the first round once the postseason begins.
Also keep in mind New Hampshire and Pocono are both flat tracks – so is Indianapolis. Could Newman pull off an upset in NASCAR’s regular season finale?
Kasey Kahne was running third at one point in the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 before contact on a late restart shuffle sent him fading to 30th at Pocono, two laps behind. That was his worst non-DNF result this season, already a difficult one for the veteran. He’s only cracked the top 20 eight times in 21 races, posting an average finish this year of just 23.1. That leaves him 27th in the standings among 30 drivers who have competed in every MENCS race this season.
Paint Schemes of the Week
Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevy was still sponsored by Axalta this weekend, per usual. But the colors were a little different this week. The midnight green and black of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, reigning Super Bowl champions, found their way onto the car. Since Pocono Raceway is in Pennsylvania, it made sense, and it also looked nearly as good on the racetrack as the Eagles’ uniforms do on the field.
Timmy Hill‘s No. 66 was also a cross-sport promotion, as his Motorsports Business Management Toyota was sponsored by the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. That’s the Triple-A level affiliate of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, also a local team. A scheme featuring orange, black and white will always win extra points from me and I greatly enjoy hockey, making this selection an easy one. Last season, Lehigh Valley won the Atlantic Division title and in the playoffs advanced to the Eastern Conference final. That’s where the Phantoms were halted by eventual league champion Toronto.
The MENCS and XFINITY Series go road course racing this weekend in upstate New York at Watkins Glen International. The Camping World Truck Series is off this weekend.
The NXS Zippo 200 at the Glen this Saturday (Aug. 4) will likely be a wild race with a memorable finish. Lots of regulars should encounter trouble and I think a part-time driver will slip past the finish line in first.
If there is a wild-card winner during NASCAR’s remaining regular season races the Glen will be the spot for it. If there is one, my guess would be Daniel Suarez, taking advantage of his road course background and JGR’s momentum. But realistically, Kyle Busch will probably battle Keselowski for the win. The No. 18 team is just too good right now.
The GoBowling at the Glen will run Sunday, Aug. 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET with TV coverage on NBC.